There’s chatter amongst the audience, while a few are still scurrying to their seats. Then, a member of Hyde Park Theater welcomes us and introduces the act. Suddenly, the room goes black. When the dimmed multicolored lights return, Zell Miller, III, and Thomas “T-Man” Wheeler are on stage, ready to take us on a historic journey through the rise (and fall) of Austin, Texas, as seen through the eyes of a Black boy.
It’s edutainment and it’s definitely for Austin. It’s a shout-out to a lot of things that are gone and it’s a Black kid’s perspective of the city and using spoken word, a jazz aesthetic, movement, and just storytelling.
Chronicles of an Indigenous Offspring follows a young Zell through different experiences in his childhood that helped him see Austin for the better and for the worse. It also teaches very important historical facts about the city that are not openly shared, even in the education system.
I will say, I had my apprehensions coming into this because of preconceived notions I had about one-man shows. So, as the performance started, I had my guard up. Almost immediately, though, my mind was changed, and my horizons were broadened. Miller uses interpretive movement, bold spoken word laid over familiar hip-hop beats drummed by Wheeler, and even audio clips to pull you into the story. Zell also collaborated with photographer Ivan Miller to capture beautiful, thought-provoking images of Austin, to use as a backdrop for the show.
When asked what inspired him to create this show, Miller stated, “Just growing up in Austin and being able to articulate the pain and beauty I experienced. James Baldwin has a set of essays called Notes of a Native Son, and that is where I took the title from. So I just flipped it around to Chronicles of an Indigenous Offspring.”
I pulled myself out of the attention-grabbing performance periodically to view the faces of the audience. Each time, everyone was deeply invested, either nodding along to a song being played in the background, laughing at a statement from Miller, or even crying. Yes, there are some tear-jerking moments in the performance. I spoke with one attendee afterward, and this is what she said “I’ve been friends with Zell for a long time. So I want to come out and support because I know he never disappoints . . . he knows how to ride a beat. He speaks to the real with poignancy, and he’ll make you laugh, cry, and think deeply about your world.”
Overall, I definitely recommend all citizens of the Austin area go to see this show. As previously stated, it is real edutainment about our dear city, through good and bad. It keeps you locked in at all times, and while it lasted for almost two hours, I was not ready for it to end.
Chronicles of an Indigenous Offspring will run at Hyde Park Theater, 511 W 43rd St. , Thursday through Saturday of each week at 8:00 pm through June 3rd.